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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Meeting of the Parliament 07 March 2017

Agenda: Time for Reflection, Business Motion, Topical Question Time, Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014 (Information-sharing Provisions), International Women’s Day, Point of Order, Decision Time, Local Government Finance (Debt Amnesty)


Contents


Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014 (Information-sharing Provisions)

The Presiding Officer (Ken Macintosh)

Our next item of business is a statement by John Swinney on information-sharing provisions in relation to parts 4 and 5 of the Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014. The cabinet secretary will take questions at the end of his statement.

14:32  

The Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills (John Swinney)

Improving the lives of all our children, young people and their families is something that members of the Scottish Parliament have been working together to achieve for many years. Getting it right for every child has been the national approach in Scotland since 2006 to improving outcomes and supporting the wellbeing of our children and young people. Its core premise of offering the right help at the right time from the right people was supported by all parties then, and I believe that they still support that. This Government remains wholly committed to applying the GIRFEC approach as part of our determination to ensure that all Scotland’s children get the best possible start in life.

The foundations on which GIRFEC is built are the principles of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. Above all, this approach seeks to ensure that public policy and practice decisions are taken in the best interests of the child and deliver the Government’s responsibility to protect and support families to nurture their children. The named person service is central to fulfilling the responsibility of the Government and the wider public sector to enhance and support children’s rights.

The named person service is a simple but important concept that came from families themselves: that having a single, named contact such as a health visitor or teacher whom parents know they can go to for advice, information and support about any aspect of their child’s wellbeing is helpful for children and parents. For practitioners, having that same clear point of contact at the core of a team of professionals and services around a child enables agencies and individuals to work more effectively together to better support, safeguard and promote the wellbeing of children and young people.

The named person service makes available access to early support for all families because, although it can be clear in some circumstances that help might be required, it is impossible in all cases to predict whether or when a family or a child might need extra help. Whether families are faced with the difficulties posed by the debilitating cycle of deprivation, an unexpected diagnosis of a disability, a breakdown of family relationships or other challenges when circumstances change, clearly there are times when children, young people and their families benefit from a clear point of contact for information and support to help them to navigate the system and to get the help that they need. As I made clear in my statement to Parliament in September, the Government remains absolutely committed to the named person service as a way to support children and their families.

On 28 July last year, the Supreme Court ruled definitively that the intention of providing a named person for every child to promote and safeguard their wellbeing was

“unquestionably legitimate and benign”.

The judgment did not require current policy to change and did not relate to current practice under getting it right for every child. A local authority or health board can continue to nominate a person to be responsible for the provision of services to a child, and organisations can, within the framework of the existing law, continue to deliver or engage with such existing or developing named person services.

I reiterate my support for the practitioners across Scotland who continue to live up to their commitment to develop and deliver a named person service to families in their local areas within the framework of the existing law.

However, the Supreme Court judgment requires us to change the statutory provisions relating to one aspect of the named person service, which is information sharing. I believe that the aims of the policy justify broad support and that when the way forward on the implementation of information sharing is accurately understood, it too will command support.

The Supreme Court determined that ministers needed to provide greater clarity on the basis on which health visitors, teachers and other professionals who support families will share and receive information in their named person role. It ruled that the information-sharing provisions of part 4 of the Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014 as they were originally framed are incompatible with article 8 of the European convention on human rights and that changes are needed to make them compatible with article 8 and to ensure respect for a person’s

“private and family life, his home and his correspondence.”

The Supreme Court judgment has provided an opportunity, therefore, to revisit the information-sharing provisions in the 2014 act in a way that will not only secure the protection of those rights but improve the named person service and reassure parents, practitioners and the wider public that the service will work with and for families.

Since the Supreme Court judgment, I have led a three-month period of intense engagement. I have listened to parents, charities, practitioners and children and young people, and I have listened to those who support the named person policy and those who have concerns about it. Over three months, that engagement involved more than 50 meetings and some 250 organisations and groups. It included about 700 young people; parents and carers; practitioners; professionals; and leaders from education, health, local authorities, police, faith communities, unions and charities. Importantly, we listened to those who had concerns about information sharing and were prepared to consider a revised way forward. We reached out to others including Christian Action Research and Education Scotland, CLAN Childlaw, Together and the Scottish Parent Teacher Council. We are grateful to all those who took part in what was a genuinely open engagement.

A key part of our engagement was listening to children and young people. Our commitment to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child requires us to uphold children’s rights by ensuring that their voices are heard, listened to and acted on by all those who support them and provide services to help them. On a more personal level, young people recognised the benefit of having access to someone they trust to help them to get support if needed.

The Government listened to parents. The named person service provides a point of contact and support who works in partnership with parents and families to help them to navigate the wider system. Parents told us that they do not always get the support that their family needs so they have to tell their stories over and over again. Parents also told us that they want the named person service to work in partnership with them and that having a say in the sharing of information about their family matters to them. Their views and their experience reinforce the initial rationale for creating the named person service.

The Government listened to practitioners. Like families, nursing and medical professional organisations and trade unions told us that information sharing that is rooted in consent, engagement and the empowerment of families is the best way forward. Only in exceptional circumstances, such as where the risk of harm is present, should we consider departing from those core principles. Practitioners highlighted the point that professional judgment and discretion remain vital in working with families to decide whether, when and with whom information should be shared.

The Care Inspectorate highlighted to us that sharing of relevant and proportionate information in relation to the wellbeing of children had improved as organisations prepared for the implementation of the named person service. Joint inspections of services for children and young people in 2014 to 2016 showed that most community partnership areas had developed mechanisms for sharing information about individual children with relevant services, while working within the requirements of data protection legislation and duties of confidentiality. However, their reports also showed that practice remains inconsistent across services in localities and between localities, meaning that families will experience differing levels of support. A recurring issue in tragic cases has been a failure to share information when remedial action could have been effective.

Putting the findings from that extensive engagement and the Care Inspectorate reports alongside the ruling of the Supreme Court makes it clear what needs to be remedied. We must provide consistency, coherence and confidence in the approach to sharing information below the threshold of risk of significant harm, where the named person’s role is so important in supporting families to get assistance when they need it.

I propose to bring forward a bill that will include new provisions on when and how information can be shared by and with the named person service. The new provisions will ensure that we address the Supreme Court’s judgment, live up to our objective of supporting children and young people and give them and their families reassurance that their rights are fully respected. I intend to introduce the bill ahead of the summer recess, and I will work with Parliament to agree a timetable to enable commencement in 2018.

Without legislation, there is a risk that the benefits of a coherent and consistent approach, which in some places is delivered through good practice, are not made available to all families. The new provisions mean a longer timeframe for commencement than was originally anticipated, but I believe that, given the significance of the issues involved, Parliament must be given the full and proper opportunity to legislate on these issues.

This approach will involve replacing some of the provisions in the 2014 act that the Supreme Court was concerned about with new provisions that require named person service providers, and others involved with children and young people, to consider whether sharing information will promote, support or safeguard the wellbeing of the child or young person and is compatible with data protection law, human rights and the law of confidentiality. Only if information can be consistently shared within those legal constraints will the power be there to share it—the legislation will make that clear.

That approach aims to promote good and consistent practice by imposing an explicit duty on named person service providers and others to consider whether or not to share information where that would promote, support or safeguard the wellbeing of a child, while making it clear that that may be done only where there is compatibility with data protection law, the law of confidentiality and human rights law. Through both practice and the legislative framework, the importance of involving families in the sharing of their personal information will be central to how the named person service works with families.

There is also a crucial balance to be struck. We must ensure that the 2014 act supports children, young people and families to access support easily if they need it, but we must also strive to ensure that the amendments to the 2014 act do not result in unnecessary bureaucracy or a burden on services. I have reflected on that point very carefully.

To support implementation of that approach, it is proposed that a new section be added to the 2014 act to provide for the making of guidance, specifically on information sharing, designed to address the Supreme Court’s judgment. That guidance will be an important resource that will assist practitioners to take a systematic approach to information sharing in appropriate cases. It is envisaged that the guidance could incorporate suitable case studies to assist understanding by practitioners, and it will also help to address the concerns expressed in the Supreme Court judgment about the question of proportionality. That approach supports the ambitions, which practitioners share, to enable continued improvements in working together, while leaving appropriate scope for practitioner judgement and discretion.

I intend that draft guidance will be presented to Parliament as early as possible during the bill’s passage. I am aiming for a draft to be available at the same time as the bill is introduced, ahead of summer recess.

The Government will work with practitioners and organisations to enable them to implement the new legislation. We will work with key partners to develop and deliver national training and capability-building programmes to ensure that proportionate information sharing that works for and with families is the norm. We will engage key partners in the inspectorates and the statutory, third and independent sectors to develop resources for robust self-evaluation and review mechanisms for use by practitioners.

I recognise that, after a campaign that has involved a lot of misinformation about the named person service, it is important for Parliament and the country to have confidence in the getting it right for every child approach. Ensuring the trust of families and young people across Scotland is critical in ensuring the success of the named person service. The legislative process will create the opportunity to do that. In addition, we will deliver, with partners, public information campaigns that provide accessible information for children, young people and parents on their rights and entitlements, as embodied in getting it right for every child.

I want to reassure Parliament that we have taken seriously our responsibility to provide an appropriate response to the Supreme Court judgment. We have sought advice and listened to a wide range of views and experiences. We now intend to put in place measures so that the named person service, the aims of which were supported by Parliament and described by the Supreme Court as “unquestionably legitimate and benign”, is compatible with data protection law, human rights and the law of confidentiality. By making these changes, we will respond to the Supreme Court ruling in a way that improves the named person service and which gives families, practitioners and the wider public greater confidence that information sharing for the purposes of the named person service will be in line with the founding principles of getting it right for every child and will respect people’s rights fully.

The approach that I have set out today seeks to bring consistency, clarity and coherence to the practice of sharing information about children and young people’s wellbeing across Scotland. It also seeks to achieve something more fundamental: to enable us to work together, as Government and Parliament, to deliver the original aims of a policy journey that began more than 10 years ago. Let us agree today to ensure that we get it right for every child.

The Presiding Officer

Members now have the opportunity to put questions to the cabinet secretary.

Liz Smith (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)

I thank the cabinet secretary for prior sight of his statement.

Every opinion poll that has been conducted on the named person policy shows that the majority of the public and a very large number of the practitioners whom the cabinet secretary mentioned in his statement do not want named persons. On the basis of what evidence has the cabinet secretary decided not to abolish the whole idea?

The cabinet secretary mentioned that the Supreme Court said that the named person policy intervention was “unquestionably legitimate and benign”. However, to be precise, there is a very significant difference between a policy of caring for wellbeing with benign intentions, and a named person policy that has at its heart potentially disproportionate and intrusive data sharing, which was ruled unlawful. Does the cabinet secretary accept that key difference, which he did not recognise in his statement? Will “wellbeing” be defined in the new bill? Does the cabinet secretary recognise that the most recent statistics tell us that the vacancy rate among health visitors, who are key deliverers of the policy, is rising, as is their age profile? Is that not a real problem for the policy’s implementation?

John Swinney

On the question of the policy intention, the Government was elected on its policy commitments, and it is committed to the named person service. Parliament has legislated for that to be the case and, until such time as Parliament legislates not to have a named person service, I am duty bound as a minister to respect the view and the wishes of Parliament. I do not think that Parliament would expect anything else of me.

Liz Smith’s second question was on the Supreme Court’s judgment that the named person policy is “unquestionably legitimate and benign”. Liz Smith is correct to say that the Supreme Court raised issues about proportionality and, in my statement, I went to great lengths to set out how the question of proportionality will be addressed. It will be addressed by placing a duty on practitioners to consider whether there is a legitimate case for sharing information and to go on to consider whether the sharing of that information is compatible with the existing legal framework in which we all have to operate. I have no alternative but to address all issues that are raised by the Supreme Court, and the question of proportionality has been addressed in that fashion.

Thirdly, Liz Smith will be aware that the term “wellbeing” is present and defined in the 2014 act. Parliament will have to consider the legislation that I introduce.

Lastly, Liz Smith might not have got to this detail yet but, this morning, data revealed an increase of 117 in the number of health visitors, which is welcome progress towards our target of 500 by 2018. We need to ensure that we have a strong health visitor community that is able to contribute to supporting families where they need support to assure the wellbeing of young people. The Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport and I are very focused on ensuring that we have a seamless integrated support arrangement in place for those in our society who need it, so that we ensure that we can, at the earliest possible opportunity, act to overcome the difficulties and the challenges that children face.

Iain Gray (East Lothian) (Lab)

Towards the end of his statement, the Deputy First Minister talked about misinformation about the named person service, and he acknowledged the consequent loss of trust in the policy among parents and practitioners. He knows that we have long argued that one of the elements of the named person scheme that allows some misrepresentations to gain credence is the inclusion of 16 and 17-year-olds. Will he consider using the legislative process on which he is now embarked to remove 16 and 17-year-olds from the scope of the legislation to help to re-establish the credibility of the policy?

John Swinney

I am grateful to Mr Gray for his remarks, and I am obviously familiar with his long-expressed view on the question of 16 and 17-year-olds. When I came to Parliament in September, I set out for Mr Gray the origin of the thinking behind the inclusion of 16 and 17-year-olds, which is that the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child defines a child as a young person up to the age of 18. The Government is trying, in a variety of ways, to fulfil our obligations in relation to the UNCRC. For example, a few weeks ago the Minister for Childcare and Early Years set out information on the steps that the Government is taking in a different area of policy—the minimum age of criminal responsibility. The issue that Mr Gray raised is not an easy one for us to resolve against the backdrop of that policy framework.

In September, I also rehearsed for Mr Gray the fact that a sizeable proportion of calls from vulnerable young people to our helplines and to ChildLine are from 16 and 17-year-olds. There is an important and illustrative lesson for us in that.

The removal of 16 and 17-year-olds from the named person legislation does not form part of my current proposals, but Parliament will embark on a legislative process and it will be up to Parliament to consider such questions.

The Presiding Officer

From now on, I would like to have very brief questions and equally succinct answers.

James Dornan (Glasgow Cathcart) (SNP)

It might be worth reminding members that the named person service has the backing of Parliament, local authorities and the major child welfare organisations.

Will the cabinet secretary detail how he will consult on the bill and how he will ensure that the Education and Skills Committee is kept updated on any progress?

John Swinney

I have gone through an intensive programme of discussion and dialogue to get to where I am today. The formal consultation on the Children and Young People (Scotland) Bill and the issue of a named person service took place back in 2012. The new bill will be subject to scrutiny by the Education and Skills Committee, and the Government will comply fully with the timetable that the committee agrees with the parliamentary authorities to ensure full scrutiny of all its provisions.

Adam Tomkins (Glasgow) (Con)

Under the Deputy First Minister’s amendments, will named persons be able to share information about children without their consent or without the consent of their parents only when it is necessary to safeguard the child’s welfare? Any broader power is likely to continue to be in breach of the law.

John Swinney

Let me say two things to Mr Tomkins. First, I envisage that information will be shared with consent in all but the exceptional circumstances that are provided for by the Data Protection Act 1998, human rights law and the law of confidentiality. Any exceptional circumstance would have to be enabled for information to be shared without consent, as long as it is provided for in those legislative instruments and that legislative framework that I have set out.

Rona Mackay (Strathkelvin and Bearsden) (SNP)

Given the many scare stories that we have heard about the named person service, which was a concept that came from families, how will the cabinet secretary ensure that the general public understand how it will work?

John Swinney

The first thing to do is to address the issues that have given rise to significant concern. As I have looked through those issues, it is quite clearly information sharing, and perhaps some of the points that Mr Tomkins has just raised, that have caused that concern. The answer that the Government has come up with today is strong and robust and it will enable us to proceed with an approach that addresses the concerns and allows us to focus back on the core principle behind the named person service, which is to provide a dependable and reliable point of contact for individual children and families when they require support in our society.

When we strip away all the debate that has gone on about this, that is what the named person is about: providing a reliable contact point for families and children so that they can go to it when they need help. In our experience from the consultation exercise, that is the service that the public are looking for and, on that basis, I think that we can build public confidence in it.

Daniel Johnson (Edinburgh Southern) (Lab)

The challenges that have been faced by the named person policy to date are twofold. The first is the legal issue, as identified by the Supreme Court, and the second is the issue around the trust of professionals, teachers and children. What activities that took place within the period of intensive engagement specifically addressed the issue of trust? How does the cabinet secretary understand the issues around trust that the policy faces? What actions will be taken to address the issues of trust in the named person service before, during and after the implementation of the revised policy?

John Swinney

The formulation that Mr Johnson has expressed there is helpful. There are legal issues that must be addressed before the service can be implemented in terms of the Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014. We have to address those issues and I have set out to Parliament the mechanism by which we will do that, which is the highest level of authority that the Government can put in place—we ask Parliament to legislate on the question. We can ask Parliament to make no greater contribution than that. The first and very important point, therefore, is that I recognise that legislation is required. In a sense, that leads me into the second point, which is about building trust. If I am asking Parliament to legislate again on these key issues, I am recognising the need to ensure that parliamentary authority is given to the provisions, and I hope that that will assist in creating some public trust.

The second point on that links with the point that Rona Mackay raised with me. The named person service should be explained to people, not as a service that will be intrusive to family life—as a consequence of the legal issues that I am now going to address, we hope to address that point conclusively—but as a resource that is of benefit and assistance as a contact point for families, to make sure that they can get support when they feel that they need it.

The last point that I would make to Mr Johnson is about practitioners, which covers a wide variety of different professionals. In my experience of the public services, many of our public servants, as teachers, health visitors, care workers, or whatever function that they are exercising, are very keenly motivated by the wellbeing of the individuals for whom they are offering support or providing education.

That is a key connection that enables the policy to be successful, because it links the needs of individuals directly with what can be delivered by public servants. We all see public servants who make a phenomenal contribution to our society and we have the opportunity to ensure that members of the public have access to that quality of service.

Jenny Gilruth (Mid Fife and Glenrothes) (SNP)

I remind members that I am the parliamentary liaison officer to the cabinet secretary.

How will the sharing provisions in the 2014 act impact on classroom teachers?

John Swinney

There is a requirement for classroom teachers to be fully cognisant of the role of a named person and the issues that can be raised with a named person, through the appropriate training and support that are available to them, to ensure that the role is being used to the full.

Classroom teachers have a particular role to ensure that they support the young people in their care, working within the structures of our education system to make sure that any concerns that they have about the wellbeing of young people are properly addressed in the appropriate fashion, while respecting the legal rights of individuals in that process.

Ross Greer (West Scotland) (Green)

As colleagues have done, I thank the cabinet secretary for advance sight of his statement.

I am reassured by Mr Swinney’s answer to Daniel Johnson with regard to the Government’s consultation period over recent months. Ensuring that young people in particular are engaged in GIRFEC is essential.

What will the Scottish Government do to ensure that young people are engaged in both the legislative process and the drafting of new guidance, through organisations such as the Scottish Youth Parliament that they have directly elected?

John Swinney

I am keen to make sure that we use the process to build confidence in the whole approach. I will take a very open approach to inviting contributions and input from organisations to help us to design the legislation and the guidance that goes with it. The guidance is very important: we must ensure that it provides the necessary clarity for individuals. Having the guidance informed by children and young people would be particularly beneficial.

On the question of dialogue with young people, the Cabinet met a group of representatives from the Scottish Children’s Parliament and the Scottish Youth Parliament for what the First Minister committed to being the first of annual discussions on relevant issues of mutual interest. Members of the Cabinet got a tremendous amount out of that conversation and we will continue that dialogue.

Tavish Scott (Shetland Islands) (LD)

I thank the cabinet secretary for his statement and his recognition of the importance of legislation in allowing for the parliamentary scrutiny that I suspect that others were hinting at. Does he recognise that the scope of the original legislation was seen to be exceeded by the implementation of the named person policy proposals, and that therefore parental concern is significant and has still to be addressed adequately?

Will the explicit duty that the cabinet secretary outlined to Parliament this afternoon guard against the invasion of parental and family privacy that is of such concern, and is he minded to note that that balance is likely to be tested only in court?

Given the concerns on this matter, does the cabinet secretary recognise the danger of a breakdown between the police, teachers and health workers on one hand and parents on the other? What will he do specifically to address that point?

John Swinney

On Mr Scott’s last point, my whole intention is to create an atmosphere of partnership working between public authorities, public servants and families. The whole intention behind the named person approach is to make public services much more accessible and readily contactable by individual families. At the heart of the concept is the encouragement of that process.

Anyone who looks at my statement will, I hope, come to the conclusion that I have recognised the importance of clarifying the issue of consent around the sharing of information. My answer to Mr Tomkins was that information will be shared with consent in all but the exceptional circumstances that I outlined. I hope that that goes a long way to addressing the issues that underpin Mr Scott’s question.

In my statement, I looked very directly at the issues that were raised by the Supreme Court and, I believe, addressed them directly and adequately by recognising that if information is to be shared, consideration will have to be given to whether the legal authority enables that to happen. If that is done, it will protect the rights that Mr Scott legitimately raises with me.

The framework that has been put in place is designed to provide that absolute clarity around the sharing of information to protect those very rights that are at the heart of Mr Scott’s question and which—frankly—underpin the Supreme Court judgment that I have to address.

Clare Haughey (Rutherglen) (SNP)

Will there be any additional resources for named person service providers to support the implementation of these changes?

John Swinney

The Government has already made resources available for the implementation of the changes. We made that allocation to local authorities during 2016-17. Obviously, we will look at the specific issues in relation to raising awareness on these questions to ensure that practitioners are fully supported in the important work that they have to do in that respect.

Ross Thomson (North East Scotland) (Con)

I remind members of my entry in the register of members’ interests as a serving councillor on Aberdeen City Council. Is the cabinet secretary aware of the survey responses that were provided by a sample of heads of senior school guidance in 29 Highland schools, which were shared with Bill Alexander, and which make plain the extent of the concern among practitioners about the named person policy? Seventy per cent of respondents strongly agreed that the named person policy has caused them greater stress, and more than 80 per cent—more than four out of five—are concerned about the impact of the named person legislation. Further, last year, Aberdeen City Council leader Jenny Laing stated that the named person policy was putting people off taking up positions as primary school headteachers in Aberdeen.

Does the cabinet secretary agree that, with all that evidence, the issue is naturally a matter of great concern to parents and teachers—in particular, when he says today that their trust is crucial to the future of the named person policy?

John Swinney

The point that I find difficult to understand and which underpins Mr Thomson’s question is that somehow members of the teaching profession are not focused on or concerned about the wellbeing of the children whom they educate. That is what the named person concept is about and that is what members of the teaching profession do every single minute of the day—they consider the wellbeing of children and support them to fulfil their potential. I am keen that the named person proposal is explained to people on that basis.

If I was a teacher who heard the explanation of the named person proposal that has been communicated quite extensively in the media, I think that I might have some concerns about it. Mr Thomson has fuelled much of that concern during the process. [Interruption.]

I am interested in making sure that we work with practitioners, parents and families to ensure that we have in place points of contact that are reliable assets for families in addressing issues on which they might need support from our public services, in the years to come.

Monica Lennon (Central Scotland) (Lab)

I want to pick up on the legitimate question that Clare Haughey asked about resources. It will not have escaped Parliament’s attention that the front page of today’s Herald states quite clearly that more than £1 billion has been cut from local government funding in the past five years. We need a more fulsome response from the cabinet secretary on the question whether there are sufficient resources. Given the cuts in local government funding, what can he say to assure us that the policy will work?

John Swinney

I point out to Monica Lennon that the most recent available data on local authority spend shows an increase in resources that have been allocated to education and children’s services.

The second point that I will make is that the Government has already made an allocation to local authorities for implementation of the named person policy; the money has been allocated in this financial year. Clearly, the policy has not been introduced, as was originally conceived by the legislation, so local authorities still have that money. I have not reclaimed it—it is sitting with local authorities and can be used to support them in their activities.

I will come back to the point that I made to Liz Smith. The data that we saw this morning showed an increase of 177 health visitors, which means that we are well on the way to achieving an increase of 500 by 2018.

I point out to Monica Lennon that there has been an increase in the spending power of local authorities as a consequence of the Government’s budget decisions and the decisions that were taken by this Parliament in agreeing the budget provisions.

Stuart McMillan (Greenock and Inverclyde) (SNP)

I thank the cabinet secretary for his detailed statement. Interested parties will welcome any information that the cabinet secretary can provide on checks and balances in relation to the named person service. Can he offer any assurances in that regard?

John Swinney

There are, of course, provisions within the existing legislation for raising concerns about the operation of the named person system, and there is a complaints mechanism that exists in respect of the workings of the system. Individuals who are concerned about how the system operates will have every opportunity to raise those concerns openly and have them addressed.

Jeremy Balfour (Lothian) (Con)

The cabinet secretary said that he has met 250 organisations and groups and has had 50 meetings over the past three months. My understanding is that he has still not met the “No to the named person” campaign, which brought a case to the Supreme Court. Which organisations has he met that are against his proposals? Will he meet people from that campaign so that they can discuss their concerns with him?

John Swinney

I explained my position on the matter to the Education and Skills Committee when I was before it some months ago.

I have been focused on addressing the issues arising from the Supreme Court judgment in order to ensure that the named person policy can be put into practice. That is what Parliament has legislated for, and that is what I consider to be my duty, as a cabinet secretary, to be. I know that Mr Balfour does not agree with the policy and that the Conservatives want the service to be abolished. However, that is not the position of Parliament; I am accountable to Parliament and my democratic duty is to ensure that I address the issues that have been raised by the Supreme Court process.

I have not met anyone from the “No to the named person” campaign because—there is a clue in the name—those people do not want the named person service. They do not want to engage in a discussion with me about how the policy could be put into practice; they want to end it.

I have discussed with organisations such as CLAN Childlaw, which was a party to the legal action, issues that they are concerned about, in order to try to address those issues adequately. Obviously, those organisations will speak for themselves and will make clear their views about the steps that I have taken. CLAN Childlaw, the charity Together, the Scottish Parent Teacher Council and CARE Scotland expressed concerns about the policy, so we have engaged with them to try to address those concerns.

I have taken as open an approach as possible. However, I think that Parliament will understand that, because I am interested in implementing the named person service and finding a way to do so, it would be unusual were I to meet people who do not want it to be implemented.

John Mason (Glasgow Shettleston) (SNP)

Does the cabinet secretary accept that there are many vulnerable children and families in my constituency who really need a named person and the help and support that such a person can give? Will he reassure them and me that he will hold firm to his principles in providing the service?

John Swinney

I recognise the need that exists in Mr Mason’s constituency, but that will be the position in every constituency in the country. There are particular challenges in his constituency, but I can think of families in my constituency that would also benefit from such support.

Therefore, I assure him that I will hold firm in my view. I have come back to Parliament, having taken time to consider the difficult and complex issues that are involved in the process, to ensure that Parliament can consider the legislation and apply the highest test that it can deploy to ensure that we have in place measures that can turn into practical support for the people and families whom Mr Mason represents.

John Scott (Ayr) (Con)

If the cabinet secretary is determined to reintroduce the named person provisions in such a relatively short timescale, will he assure Parliament that the proposed bill’s policy intentions will be fully developed and clearly expressed in the bill to give Parliament every opportunity to debate them and make good law that complies with the European convention on human rights?

John Swinney

Parliament has already legislated in the Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014 on many aspects of the provisions. The only provisions on which the Supreme Court expressed concern were on information sharing. I have set out to Parliament the route by which I intend to address those concerns. I have done that to the highest standard that Parliament can expect on any question by asking Parliament to legislate again. Obviously, Parliament will have to be satisfied with the timescale that is available to consider the legislation. As Mr Scott knows, the Government does not have a majority, so there will have to be agreement with committees and other parties about timescales to ensure that due and proper consideration is given to the legislation.

Criticism is often levelled at ministers who take appropriate and adequate time to consider issues. I have been criticised for taking as long as I have taken to consider the issue, but I make no apology for it. To fulfil my commitments as a cabinet secretary, I want to come to Parliament with good, strong and well-considered legislation that can address serious issues that the Supreme Court raised. Parliament would expect nothing else of me.

The Presiding Officer

That concludes the statement and questions.